Will Android users feel welcome in Facebook's Home?

Unless you're a huge Facebook fanatic, will this really be something you use every day?
  • (Network World)
  • — 05 April, 2013 16:08

As you've no doubt heard by now, Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook friends showed off the social network's hugely hyped new push into the mobile world at a media event held Thursday at the company's Silicon Valley HQ. And while some were no doubt disappointed that Facebook didn't release its own phone or re-branded fork of Android, the Home launcher should prove a lot more accessible to current Android users.

Essentially, what it does is replace your usual home and lock screens with a slow-moving slideshow of your Facebook friends' status updates and check-ins. You can double-tap on something to like it, leave comments, or perform a number of other simple gesture-based commands to enjoy what looks like a pretty slick, engaging presentation of Facebook content. The interface looks well-designed and easy to use, and it introduces unified messaging -- text and FB chat, at least -- that persists even when you're using other apps. (Which is both good and bad, if you ask me.)

[ MORE ANDROID: Privacy flap prompts CyanogenMod developers to back down on mandatory info collection ]

It'll be available only for a few latest-generation devices at its April 12 release, but Facebook plans to continually update the software and add support for other phones, in addition to new features. Tablet support is planned, but won't arrive for "a few months," according to Zuckerberg.

In a lot of ways, Facebook Home looks like a potential winner for the social network. The interface adds new capabilities, seems to integrate well with Android and looks pretty nice, to boot. As a free app that you can simply download from the Play store, it'll be a lot easier to distribute than, say, a custom Facebook phone or Android variant.

However, there are still huge questions to be answered -- if it's constantly loading pics and other Facebook data, what's that do for your battery life and data allowance? Do people really want something that's just all Facebook, all the time? Will anyone be comfortable with the idea of Facebook being the central hub for all of his or her phone's messaging?

But the biggest question might be -- is it enough? Facebook has a track record in the mobile software space that could charitably be described as "troubled," so it really needs a big hit with the Home launcher. My impression is that it's interesting enough to tempt a lot of people to try it out, but I question its staying power. Android already does notifications and integration pretty well, so unless you're a huge Facebook fanatic, will this really be something you use every day? Time will tell.

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As part of the event, HTC announced that it will release the HTC First (insert now-standard joke about HTC device names) on April 12 to line up with the general availability of Facebook Home. It'll be available on AT&T only, for $99 with a contract, and come with Facebook Home pre-installed. So I guess that's the Facebook Phone we've all been waiting for, right?

A look at the device's specs on AT&T's website reveals that it's a perfectly acceptable mid-range phone with 4G connectivity. The price tag, combined with the general hype surrounding today's announcement, made me think it might be a more impressive handset that was being subsidized by Facebook, but I guess it's just your average midmarket device. (But it's available in four different colors!)

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Google has just been granted a patent on a battery-saving feature that can actively dial down display settings -- lowering the resolution, turning off animations and visual effects and even displaying nothing but blacks and reds at the extreme end. Given the move toward bigger and more power-hungry displays in Android phones, this seems like it could be very helpful - though Google's patent implies that it'll only be present on Nexus devices.

(H/T: DroidLife)

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Jelly Bean now accounts for more than 25% of all active Android installs. While the much-older Gingerbread is still the most-used version, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean are cutting into its lead, together making up over half of the install base.

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According to a report from the ever-busy SamMobile, Samsung is working on "Galaxy Mega" devices, which will feature 5.8- and 6.3-inch screens, but it knows little more than that. I can't imagine why Samsung would need another outsized line of Android devices, but perhaps these are just codes for new-model Galaxy Notes or something. Hard to say anything too definite.

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Google's next Nexus phone is the latest to get the zero-bezel rumor applied to it, with PhoneArena passing along a tip that the Nexus 5 will pack a 4.5-inch, 720p screen that takes up 88% of the frontal surface area, along with an outsized 2,800mAh battery and a 9MP CCD camera.

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Reuters said Wednesday that it has anonymous sources saying a next-gen Nexus 7 tablet will go on sale in July, with the aim of keeping the pressure on Amazon and Apple in the low-end tablet market. The new Nexus 7 will have assorted hardware upgrades, as well as a Qualcomm SoC instead of an Nvidia Tegra, reportedly for "power reasons."

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Gold

Network World
Topics: unified communications, Networking, Android, wireless, software, nexus, jelly bean, Facebook, Facebook Home, samsung, consumer electronics, htc, smartphones
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